Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tristen/The Living Statues; June 29, 2013; The Frequency

Last year I made an effort to see new bands while I was in Austin for SXSW. While I did see some decent stuff, I didn’t see anyone that I fell for the way I fell for two bands that I saw by accident in previous years. The first was the Features who I’ve seen many times since first spotting them at the Rachel Ray party, and whose new self-titled record is one of the year’s best, the second was Tristen who opened for M Ward for his showcase. I don’t usually like girl singers, but sometimes all it takes is good hair and a sassy attitude to change that. Tristen has both, and reminds me a bit of Kathryn Calder or the New Pornographers, and formerly of Immaculate Machine. When I told a friend I had seen a girl singer more adorable that Calder, he told me “unpossible.” Let’s call it a tie.

For some reason tonight’s show, for which Tristen was the middle band, was free. I expected it to be miserably crowded, but in fact it was just the right amount of crowded. I got there during the opening band’s set, and only caught a few of their songs. It was ridiculously catchy power pop and they had the energy to match it. The lead singer was adorably handsome and the suave lead guitar player mugged it up with a series of silly faces. The whole band looked impeccable in suits; they must have known I’m a sucker for a band that dresses up. It was immediately infectious and addictive, and I kicked myself for being late. Of course, how could I know that the venue that was known for never starting on time would suddenly change their ways. They said they were from Wisconsin, so hopefully they will be back to Madison soon. I’ll be looking for them.

I’d participated in Tristen’s Kickstarter fundraiser and had expected to have the record by now, but as often happens there were delays and nothing had shipped out yet. Not that I’m complaining, delays are part of the DIY process that Kickstarter is allowing people to do. I didn’t recognize any of the songs but I definitely did enjoy them nonetheless. And Tristen was as adorable as ever. Her quiet, self-deprecating banter is endearing and her gorgeous voice winning. She was wearing extremely high-waisted pants that I thought were long out of style, but it looked very good on her, so maybe I’m wrong. I felt bad that there wasn’t anything for me to buy, especially since it was a free show and I have no idea how anyone was making any money. I’m looking forward to hearing the record whenever it arrives, and hopefully they will hit the road again after that.

The Living Statues


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ha Ha Tonka/Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin/Ezra Furman; June 20, 2013; Off Broadway, St Louis

The first time I saw Ezra Furman I only saw a couple songs and it wasn’t enough for me to make up my mind on his music. I did jump to a few conclusions about him though. He was wearing a white summer dress, and while it was wretchedly hot that day, it was still a dude wearing a dress. Which led me to the conclusion that he’s a little nuts, or he wants us to think he is. Tonight he took the stage wearing what remained of an oversized T-shirt, he’d cut the back out of it and by the end of the set it looked like he was wearing a halter top. And while his apparent neurosis may or may not be real, his music quite definitely is. The little fan club of nerdy hipsters standing directly in front of him for the whole set, jumping up and down and singing along excitedly, attested to that.

And as nerdy hipsters usually are, they were right. Accompanied only by a drummer, he screamed and sang his way through tales of woe and disenchantment. And I loved it. It reminded me of the first time I saw Bright Eyes where I hung on every word of his emotionally complicated songs. He’s cut from the same cloth as former Madisonians Sleeping in the Aviary, another band where I think everyone is a crazy genius. It’s a good sign when, even though I’d only heard the songs once before, I instantly recognized them the next night when he played them again in Madison. I found it interesting that the significant other/antagonist in the ski trip story song was a girl in St Louis, but a boy the next night when he was wearing a cute little, very feminine, flowered romper. I picked up the new album the second night, and listening to it was like seeing the show all over again. I also gave the drummer my card and told him they should play at my house the next time they were back this way. I sincerely hope to hear from him.

When I toured the west coast the second time with HHT they were doing a series of co-headlining shows with Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. I enjoyed their quirky pop and the guys were all super friendly. So I was a little surprised to find out that one of the lead singers had left the band, and the one who sang the majority of the songs at that. What was even more interesting was that I didn’t actually miss him. They still sounded great, and even though Phil doesn’t have the better of the two voices, he does sing “Yellow Missing Signs.” The reto-80’s sounding tune about three girls who disappeared from their hometown of Springfield is much catchier than its dark subject matter would imply, and it is definitely my favorite SSLYBY song.

It had been a long time since I had seen Ha Ha Tonka so it was great to be able to spend three days with them. Hopefully when the new record (which already may be my second favorite HHT record) comes out I can hit the road with them again. I’ve missed my boys.

Ezra Furman

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Ha Ha Tonka

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ha Ha Tonka; June 19, 2013; Wood House Concerts, St Louis

I first met Rick Wood at Twangfest in St Louis. “I hear we have something in common,” he said, shaking my hand, “I do house concerts too.” At that point I had only done a couple, and I had no idea how he knew about them. His connection to Twangfest and local radio station KDHX gave him access to bands that I could only dream about having, many who were on my wish list from the time I first had a wish list. Over the years we’ve gotten to be friends, and we each promised to make it to a show at the other’s house some day. I got to his place first, and it makes sense that it was for Ha Ha Tonka. When he asked me for their contact info he said he wanted to have them play or take them to a Cardinals game. I figured there was no way there was going to be a show because they are all huge baseball fans, lead singer Brian Roberts especially. They are originally from the Ozarks in southern Missouri and three of the four follow the red birds, but mandolin/guitar player Brett Anderson is a Kansas City Royals fan, which means he is subject to ridicule from the rest of them. To the point that their main criticism of Man of Steel, which they had seen as a band outing the day before, was that he was wearing a Royals shirt in one scene.

Wood has the luxury of a very loyal built in crowd, and most of his shows sell out whether many people have heard of the band or not. A fact I am exceedingly jealous of. So while it wouldn’t make sense for a band to play my house and then a club, bands routinely do that in St Louis. The only people who were at both Rick’s house tonight and Off Broadway the next were me, Rick and a big Tonka fan who lives in St Louis that I had told about the house concert. Tonka has a new record coming out in September and most of those songs haven’t been played for US audiences (the band had just returned from their second European tour the month before). For their first set tonight they concentrated on the songs from Lessons. I’d had a chance to listen to the record quite a bit courtesy of an advance copy, and the songs were just starting to sink in. Opening track “Dead to the World” sounds on the record like it is about to bust into an Irish jig at any moment, while live it is a straight ahead rocker. Other early stand-outs are “Pied Piper” and the title track.

The second set focused on their other three releases. From the first record it was the usual suspects, “St Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor,”“Caney Mountain” and the omnipresent acapella number “Hangman,” which they have never failed to play. Second release Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South has been my favorite since its release. A brilliant but moody middle child, its songs aren’t as upbeat as its predecessor or the record that followed, and the only track that has stayed in regular rotation is the unlikely “Pendergast Machine.” However for longer sets they do sometimes add the brilliant “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart” back to the set. Lead singer Brian Roberts had greeted the crowd by welcoming them to the first house concert they had played. “Can you believe he just said that?” drummer Lennon Bone whispered to me as he made his way to the stage. They had played my house in 2010, and yes it was to an underwhelming crowd, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In the second set Roberts corrected his mistake and dedicated the gorgeous “Heart” to me. Totally forgiven B.

Third release Death of a Decade has proven to be full of fan favorites and live staples. Opening track “The Usual Suspects” is an infectious, mandolin driven celebration, while Mark Twain ode “The Humorist” is a smart showcase for their amazing harmonies. In fact their harmonies are the best of their many charms; it’s the rare case of a band where every member should have a microphone. Sitting at the merch counter in the back of the room for the show I had a great view of the band and a chance to appreciate what a perfect house Wood has for doing this. I wouldn’t trade the basement for it, but it’s a great space and I’m happy I finally got a chance to visit.

St Louis Zoo; June 19, 2013

I had time to kill so I stopped at the world class St Louis Zoo, which like Madison's zoo is free!